Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hit up Lincoln City for Cooler Temps, Games & [of course] Beer

For many in Oregon summer means taking a trip to the beach. I'm not much of a beach person but then again Oregon's beaches aren't of the Caribbean variety. In fact, when we made the last minute decision to head to the beach a couple weeks ago it was precisely to avoid the heat. The forecast was for the upper 90's all weekend so when we found out a buddy was spending a few days in Lincoln City we decided to join him.

Lincoln City isn't much of a craft beer destination, we knew that going in, but it's also still in Oregon, where craft beer has a way of finding its way into most places. After taking a refreshingly chilly walk on the beach and checking into our motel we met up with our buddy at Rusty Truck Brewing/Roadhouse 101. We'd never been but based on the beers I'd had from them in the past I wasn't expecting much. Without dragging you through all the details suffice it to say that either they've changed brewers or their beer is best when you get it from the source. Either way, it was a pleasant start to an afternoon of drinking. If you find yourself there on a Wednesday there are $8 growler fills or on a Thursday pints are just $3.

Not interested in getting too deep into our cups that early in the afternoon we took a beer break with a round of mini golf at the All American Putt n Bat, conveniently located just up 101. Food and beverage is not allowed on the indoor, 18-hole course and there are a few cheesy holes (when aren't there at putt-putt?) but Hole 18 is worth it. To find out more you'll have to check it out yourself.

With our thirst sufficiently regained we continued up 101 to Game Over to find not only do they have beer, the beer list is pretty decent AND pints are a mere $3. I suppose it makes sense that they don't want you blowing your wad on beer; you have to have money left over to play your choice of pinball, old school games, etc. I'm a pinball fan myself and recommend both the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Lord of the Rings games. Stay away from Circus Voltaire - it was eating quarters when I was there and the staff didn't seem too eager to make that known to other patrons. Perhaps in a "fate will offset things" bit of fortune, in the middle row we found a driving game called Off Road that had 19 credits for the blue car. The game appears to default to taking credits for just one car instead of allowing multiplayer but whatevs. One more game to note is the multi-player Pac Man right inside the door. Grab a couple of friends (or heck, even strangers) and put your Pac Man skills to the test.

Our next stop was planned as the place we'd watch the Timbers game that night - a bar called Aces at the Chinook Winds golf course. As advertised on more than one billboard, they indeed do have 28 taps which when we were there included three from Pelican and two from McKenzie, a brewery we were introduced to at Game Over. Their Twisted Meniscus IPA was a little on the sweet side but good enough to keep ordering it*. Continuing on our game themed afternoon (and waiting for the Timbers game to come on) Mag and our friend Regan used the golf simulator. It's one of those full wall sized deals that you may have seen at golf supply stores to help you select clubs. Pretty cool technology and free of charge. But that's not the only game they're running - there's also corn hole, shuffle board and a pool table, all inside for your enjoyment.

So if you find yourself in Lincoln City looking for some beer and games now you know places that rain or shine, will make for a good time.

*McKenzie is the "outside distribution line for Steelhead Brewery."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Five Kiwis and Their Beer: Part II

Continuing our look at the five New Zealand brewers that were in town for OBF in Part I, we'll pick up with a look at ParrotDog's beer, Riwaka Secret.

The double IPA they brought to town, Riwaka Secret is named for two unique New Zealand and Australian hop varieties, Riwaka which is very hard to come by and not exported outside of New Zealand, and Victoria Secret which now goes by "Vic Secret" after a cease and desist letter from that lingerie company. Using at least two hops in every beer is Matt's M.O. as he admits that he's not a single hop beer fan, perhaps because he feels like he's never brewed a good one. DIPA and hop-forward fans will enjoy this beer.

Those into Harley Davidson motorcycles may recognize the name "Panhead" as slang for one of the old HD engines and Panhead Custom Ales is a brewery that likes to tinker, to customize and to make accessible, drinkable beers. Founder Mike Neilson expanded on Carl's comments about the challenge of getting his beers into bars with the update that today the challenge is less about fighting for tap handles with the big guys and more about getting into the good beer bars. In Wellington there are only about 15 of those, which have anywhere from eight to 40 taps. To the brewers' benefit, those taps turn fairly frequently and those bars tend to give New Zealand brewers 75% of their handles, a percentage that would please most craft brewers and drinkers anywhere. Replacing the challenge of fighting the big boys has perhaps been the challenge New Zealand brewers have with capacity. Looking at the US market, they're heartened that craft beer drinkers will be eager to fill their pints with as much as can be produced.

The final representative of the New Zealand craft beer scene to speak was Stu McKinlay of Yeastie Boys. First off, I have to give huge kudos to Stu for soldiering on after breaking both his forearms during this trip (neither of which required a cast, but only one of which was bandaged and in a sling). Stu is a self-described "yeast-head" that got his start after receiving great praise for his homebrewed porter, which in turn became Yeastie Boys' first commercial beer. Initially they were only brewing every three months while Stu continued to work his day job. Recently he's been able to quit that and move to the UK where brewing operations will be based.

In creating a beer for the Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular, Stu cupped 20 teas to find just the right one. That right one is Earl Gray Blue Flower, a tea that reminds Stu of his childhood, and is used so heavily in the beer that it is described as "dry-leafed" (a counter to "dry-hopped"). Named Gunnamatta, this is also the beer that they brought to OBF. Not being a big tea fan myself, I wasn't sure how well I'd like it and I was pleasantly surprised from the first sip all the way through the last, at which time the beer was warm and may have been even more enjoyable than when it was first poured.

If you didn't run into any of the brewers or drink the beers that they brought to OBF, the opportunity to taste their work hasn't completely passed. While the group was in town, each of them teamed up with a local brewer to make a collaboration beer. When exactly those beers will be released I have not yet heard but keep an eye on the local breweries - Cascade, Ecliptic, Gigantic, Lompoc and Widmer - for more details.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Five Kiwis and Their Beer: Part I

If you went/are attending the Oregon Brewers Festival this year (and why wouldn't you if you're in Portland?), I hope that you did/are planning to hit up the beers in the International Beer Garden. In my last post I gave some reasons why you should. Today I want to share the first of two posts that will provide some back story on the brewers, breweries and beers. If you're like me that's part of the appeal of craft beer.

Carl (right), Mike Neilson & Doug Donelan
Tuatara Brewery is one of the oldest craft breweries in New Zealand and was certainly the elder in the group at Thursday's Meet the Kiwis event at Belmont Station. Established in 1999 by Carl Vasta and his wife, it began as a 600 liter operation (that's 158.5 gallons for the non-metric folks, about 3.7bbls for beer folks) and has expanded to 9,000 liters after four upgrades. One of the biggest challenges at the time was getting their beer in bars because many larger breweries owned or had exclusive arrangements with many of the bars. Luckily two bars were willing to carry Carl's beer and from there he built a following.

As for the name of the company, a tuatara is reptile endemic to New Zealand and has existed since the age of the dinosaurs, somewhat fitting for a brewery that has direct lineage to the start of craft beer in New Zealand. Fitting as well are the hops that are used in their Sauvinova, a single hop pale ale, Nelson Sauvin. Those hops came onto the scene about the same time Tuatara did and are used in copious amounts, providing balanced bitterness.

Garage Project gets it name from the fact that it actually started in a small garage where Jos Ruffel brewed 1/2bbl batches. (If you're a Kiwi, "garage" is pronounced in a far less pedestrian way with heavy emphasis on the first part of the word so that it could almost be mistaken for two words.) From the beginning Jos was interested in creating an urban brewery that would focus on trying new things. Case in point was their 24/24 project where they brewed 24 different beers in 24 weeks. Their Venusian Pale Ale was one of the beers that came out of that project and was a collaboration with a local graphic artist in which they sought to create a beer that could fit within the elaborate universe of the artist - a little bit of a trippy story. As for the beer itself, the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf and grapefruit peel are ingredients that make the beer scream, "I'd be even more delicious with food!" Currently they are bottling and canning by hand with limited Southern California distribution on the horizon so perhaps in the not too distant future I'll have the chance to make a pairing happen.

Matt Warner started ParrotDog in 2012 after taking up home brewing while in college. In the beginning the beer was contract brewed, something that seems to be a more legitimate start in New Zealand than in the US and may be used as a stepping stone to opening one's own brewery. When the demand for tank space at the contract brewery became too great Matt began hunting for a space out of necessity. Even three years ago financing was a challenge, something US brewers can identify with, but like many passionate brewers before him, Matt found a way to make it happen.

And now for a break, because I have a thing about long blog posts. I don't like to read them and therefore I'm not going to subject you to them. So, check back tomorrow for Part II, including ParrotDog's Riwaka Secret.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Going Abroad at OBF: International Beer Garden

I drink very few imported beers for the simple fact that there is so much good beer locally and nationally that I don't feel the need to look abroad. Therefore things like the Portland International Beer festival hold little interest for me. Following that line of reasoning I was not as interested initially in the offerings in the International Beer Garden as the rest of the beers at the Oregon Brewers Festival. With that said a few reasons gave me pause to reconsider.

1. There are not just New Zealand and Dutch beers in the International Beer Garden some of the actual brewers here.
2. I heard good reviews of the beers early on in the festival from fellow beer geeks that I trust.
3. Hold onto your shorts for this one...the beers were only one token each. That's right, none of the two and three token business like back when it was the Buzz Tent.

During the first two days of the festival I tried eight beers (out of a total of 15 that will be poured during the run of the festival), with only one being a disappointment. That percentage is on par with my general festival ratio. And don't forget, these beers have traveled quite a distance, probably enduring less careful handling than those kegs that only had to travel a few miles to get to the festival.

Beyond the beer itself I attended the "Meet the Kiwis" last night at Belmont Station where five New Zealand brewers were on hand to talk about their breweries plus one of the most influential people in the malt business in New Zealand, David Cryer of Cryermalt, and one of the key figures in this cultural exchange, Doug Donelan of New Zealand Hops and the Brewers Guild of New Zealand. Putting a face and a story to the beer in my hand has always been one of the things I enjoy most about craft beer. Listening to them talk, with great enthusiasm about their craft, proves that craft brewers are craft brewers the world over.

This experience was particularly interesting due to the non-US perspective. I'll go into more detail in the next post about the five breweries - Tuatara, Garage Project, ParrotDog, Panhead Custom Ales and Yeastie Boys - but for now, just know that during your time at OBF, you definitely need to stop in at the International Tent.

In the meantime, take a gander as Stu McKinlay of Yeastie Boys talks about his decision to become a brewer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Day Trippin': Salem

Salem is just shy of an hour's drive from Portland yet our great state's capital isn't a place I'd considered a destination for a day or quick overnight trip until we were making our plans for the weekend of the Oregon Garden Brewfest. Instead of heading directly back to Portland on Friday after attending the first day of the festival we decided to extend our weekend with an overnight stay in Salem and take in some of the places we hadn't been to before.

Santiam Brewing and Salem Ale Works were on our short list of places to visit, being centrally located and in fact within walking distance from one another. A friend suggested staying at the Grand Hotel in the heart of downtown but being booked solid we stayed at a serviceable Howard Johnson's up the street from Salem Ale Works.
Santiam sits in a light industrial park, a common location for small breweries. What is uncommon is the number of taps - 12 when we visited - PLUS four, count 'em four, beer engines. As a fan of cask ale, the availability of which is seriously lacking in Portland, it was refreshing to see this many. The added bonus was that two of the cask offerings had pushed counterparts, offering folks the ability to taste side-by-side the difference between the same beer being served two different ways. With all of those options ordering a sampler tray, made from a barrel stave, was the only way to go.

Salem Ale Works is in a business park just across from the Salem airport not far from Santiam. Sitting on one edge of the complex, facing an empty field and with most of the other businesses closed when we visited on a Friday night, the sidewalk patio was a peaceful place to drink through a sampler tray. If the weather is not conducive to patio seating, there is also a small bar and additional seating indoors.

The third place we visited, pretty much just because it was on our way back to the HoJo from Salem Ale Works, was Sparky's Brewing. We were told that it was a combo homebrew shop/bar/brewery so I didn't hold out huge hopes but I am so glad we didn't skip it. Sparky's is primarily a bar - a bar with a great tap list that utilizes a Digital Pour menu displaying their Kilo Hops IPA, 25 other beers, four ciders, three wines and even two kombuchas. They have a kitchen and decor that was far more than expected. If I lived nearby you can bet my face would be a familiar one here.

In case you decide to recreate our trip there's something else you should know. There's a Popeye's between Sparky's and HoJo's. Not much better then ending a day of drinking than with a bag of Popeye's.

My last note on planning a trip to Salem is to visit Vagabond Brewing. We have been there a couple of times before - GREAT place - and the only reason we didn't visit this time is that they're on the north side of town, farther than we wanted to venture that night. But it's definitely worth a visit, just plan to do so either on your way into or out of town.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Coming Up: The Pinnacle of Oregon Craft Beer Month

The granddaddy of beer festivals in Oregon, the one that started it all, the Oregon Brewers Festival, kicks off next Wednesday. Celebrating its 28th year, it was started in craft beer's infancy, when there were just seven craft breweries in the state.

Expected attendance at this year's festival is 85,000, with beer lovers from Oregon, across the U.S. and all around the world converging on Portland's waterfront. Similar to last year when Art Larrance brought nearly a dozen Dutch brouwerijs to town, the festival is hosting 13 brewers from New Zealand and The Netherlands as part of a cultural exchange.

As is my M.O. I'll be heading to the festival early during the five-day run, early in the day. Of the 105 beers that will be poured in the main festival and International Beer Garden I've compiled a list of 29, 18 that I definitely want to have and an additional 11 that I'm going to do my darnedest to get to.
Of those, the ones I'm most excited about are:
Burnside Brewing Co. Smoked Berliner Weisse - I don't understand it but have high hopes.
Claim 52 Brewing Runnermass - Essentially a radler blending a Kolsch style pale ale with lemon-lime soda, I'm intrigued to see how well they pull it off.
Fort George Summer Stout - A stout with secondary fermentation on organic peaches?!?
Oedipus Brewing Vogelen - An international offering, I'm down to try a dry-hopped Berliner Weisse.
Oersoep Brettalicious - Another international offering, let's see what they do with Brett
Sixpoint Brewery Little Raspy - I'm a sucker for a Lacto beer with raspberry puree.
Uiltje CC: Porter- Even if it wasn't one of the international offerings, a coffee beer described as liquefied Mounds bar sounds delish.

For those of you that are social media geeks like me, you'll appreciate something new that was included in the press kit I received this year - a spreadsheet of all of the participating breweries' Twitter accounts. And speaking of social media, what I'll be doing and what I encourage others to do, is to utilize the Wish List feature of Untapped for easy-peasy check-ins at the festival.

Finally, in reviewing the lineup there were some listings that popped out to me, some because they are debuting at the festival, some for personal, warm fuzzy reasons.
Ambacht Brewing, OR - Debut; profiled in my Dec 2014 piece for the Oregon Beer Growler.

Bent Paddle Brewing Co., MN - One of the newer MN breweries, impressive to be selected & able to produce the number of kegs required to participate.
Collaborator Project - From Oregon Brew Crew member Jodi Campbell (the first solo female winner) & Widmer, offering Valley Vanilla Pale Ale.
Fremont Brewing, WA - Debut
PINTS Urban Brewery, OR - Debut; rock on, Alan!
Sprecher Brewery, WI - Not their first OBF rodeo but it makes my Midwest heart happy.
StormBreaker Brewing, OR - Debut
The Lost Abbey, CA - Debut

Oregon Brewers Festival
Wednesday, July 22 - Sunday, July 26
Beers pouring daily at 12:00 pm
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
$7 tasting glass, $1 wooden tokens

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Comfort of Beer

As a long-time beer geek, seeking out beer wherever I'm at it is a given, hopefully a given that isn't too irritating (or an off-base indication that I need to visit the AA folks) to family and friends who haven't gone down the beer rabbit hole themselves. It's a delight to find new beer or in certain locals be reunited with old favorites that don't make it to Portland. It's also a comfort, not just the comfortable escape the ABVs provide but also the comfort of pursuing a familiar hobby.

Case in point is a recent visit back to the Midwest due to a family medical emergency, which for now is out of the crisis category and into the wait and see category. Towards the end of the second day spent mostly in a hospital room I was able to meet up with one of my dearest friends, first at a dive bar just down the street from the hospital and then we continued our visit over dinner at a place she specifically chose because of their tap list. While she's primarily a macro drinker she's a ready student eager to explore, up for tasting anything and she knows a good tap list when she sees it.

Jameson's Public House was the destination and with one look their tap handles I was blown away. There were five Deschutes taps, but not the usual suspects of Black Butte and Mirror Pond, oh no, there was The Stoic, Fresh Squeezed, Armory XPA (on nitro), Pinedrops IPA and Red Chair. In addition there was Rubaeus from Founders and Abrasive from Surly. I was quite serious when I said I'd happily spend the night there.

Rubaeus, made with raspberries, has been a beer I've been eager to try for years, since we visited Founder's on a beercation, in fact. Although they were out of it when we were there I picked up a t-shirt and every time I've worn it I've wondered when I would be able to try it. It was as delicious as I had hoped and was a unanimous hit with my friend, my brother and even my non-beer drinking mom.

I would have greatly enjoyed another Rubaeus but I couldn't resist the pull of Abrasive. It's a big beer so I tried getting a half pour, common in Portland. It turned out not to be an option so I happily enjoyed sip after sip of the full goblet at our patio table as the sun slowly set and the music from down the street filled the evening.